Mysterious fish disappearance & reviving a baby fish after a squeeze incident

Recently, our Neon Tetra fish numbers dwindled to five from seven. One suddenly disappeared about a month ago, and we assumed it was eaten by the female Betta, the biggest fish in the tank. No other events occurred until three days ago; we noticed only 5 were visible.  

Kids were intrigued by its disappearance and determined to solve this mystery. They were not kidding. Elliot opened the tank lid and started lifting the decorations and moving around the gravel. I doubted he would find anything, but when he lifted the cave a tissue thin skin with its regular coloring swirled to the surface. Its insides were gone.

The red color is not blood. Its the red stripe on its body. Kids want to keep this specimen for an indefinite amount of time.

Clues: The orange Platy was seen nipping at the Tetras lately, so it became the first suspect. Betta became the #2 suspect. These suspicious fish had two sets of keen eyes watching their moves and a tap on the tank glass if they got too close to the Tetras.

Kids profiled each fish and after watching, what seemed like a billion YouTube videos, they concluded it’s the catfish group. One video explained how catfish will eat their tank mates if they run out of algae to eat. A-HA! We haven’t been giving them algae drops since they probably had enough to eat from the leftover food and fish waste. I assumed they already had plenty to eat.

New Plan: For kids: Must buy new fish to replace the 2 Neon Tetras. For me: Let’s keep it the way it is and no more fish.

Action: Bought 2 orange Platy’s and the 2 of the tiniest Neon Tetras at PetSmart. When I told the guy we wanted the smallest ones, he really delivered. They were barely visible in the plastic bag.

Implementation: Kids wanted to do the transfer themselves. I wasn’t too sure but it would be a good learning experience nonetheless. Two minutes in…water all over the chair and floor. This plastic bag collapsed and water spilled out when I cut the rubber banded part off with a scissor. Clean up took about 30 minutes for me while the kids ran off to do their thing. humph…

First transfer to our tank from PetSmart. Two baby Tetras mingling with the others.

Realization after the fact: The tiny 2 Tetras are probably babies. They may starve because the bigger ones will get to the food first.

Next action plan: We must transfer them to a smaller bowl. I tell Elliot and he wholeheartedly agrees that’s the best plan.

Implementation: Prepared a small fishbowl with conditioned water and some rocks. Elliot netted out the first one and put it in the bowl. Unfortunately, the second one got squeezed on its side during the transfer. It darted out of the net and Elliot tried to hold onto it, and this is how the Tetra’s midsection got squished. It immediately went limp and floated slowly down to the bottom of the bowl. Thought it was playing dead, but it was breathing rapidly, floating sideways. It wasn’t floating upside down; all hope is not lost yet.

Reaction: Elliot – speechless. Me – frustrated. This probably means we’ll have to go back to PetSmart the next day. Elliot: visibly upset and panicking when the fish wouldn’t swim. He apologized to me for being careless and apologizing to the fish for hurting it. I told him he didn’t need to apologize to me; it was no one’s fault. We were trying to provide a conducive habitat for the fish, except that our well-intentioned move went awry. He put his hand to his eyes and started crying saying if the fish dies it would be his fault.

When he replayed this saga to his sister later, she asked if he cried. He said, “No, I wasn’t crying. I was weeping.”

I’m exhausted from cleaning, moving this and that around, comforting a sad child, and googling treatments for Tetra fish. My first instinct was to tell Elliot that we should just let it peacefully die. We’ve accidentally killed so many fish that I didn’t see it possible to revive a tiny one back to health. It’s not that I’m heartless about fish; I really didn’t believe we could do anything productive.

Problem Solving: Google how to care for injured fish. Elliot starts searching YouTube videos and I google search on my phone. Visiting a fish vet is a possibility, but I wasn’t confident we’d go that far. The Tetra was $2.50. He found a video from a YouTube channel called Joel’sAnimalPassion00; his Tetra looked weak and would hide in dark spaces away from others. He provided specific steps for treating a sick Tetra. His channel

Step 1: Quarantine the sick fish in a small cup or bowl

Vitals: Rapid breathing, floating around sideways. At time, it swims normally and floats sideways again.

Step 2: Add a few drops of water conditioner and a dissolve a dash of salt into it. He added some medicinal formula for fish, but we didn’t have that to add at home. Had no idea if this would work, but it was worth trying in changing the water composition with salt.

Step 3: We do all of steps 1 and 2. Since the fish may be stressed out, we add a tiny pinch of “First Bites” powdered food.

Step 4: Still floating around, nibbling at the food falling over it, and breathing rapidly still. The YouTube guy said his Tetra didn’t like light, so he covered the cup with a cap. We used a small white box to cover the top.

Reducing sunlight to create comfortable ambiance for frazzled fish. Fish is housed in the bottom half of a cut plastic water bottle.

Step 5: Wait and see

Step 6: The next morning, we are surprised that the wounded Tetra is swimming normally. We give it more food and it perks up. Few hours later, we net him back into the 10 gallon tank. Immediately, it starts schooling with the other Tetras. Its name is “Warrior” due to the ordeal it survived.

Conclusion: Elliot is thrilled he was able to revive the baby fish back to health. He said we were the Emergency Room Fish Doctors and that it was tough treating a baby fish.

Current status: The revived Tetra is back with the other fish in the main tank, schooling happily with the others. I don’t want it to starve, maybe I’m paranoid, so we feed the two in a separate net container. Rest of the fish are inundated with baby food scraps. Must do a water change in the next day or two.

Careful transfer from quarantine to main tank.
Warrior is back!

This experience has convinced the kids that they are ready to upgrade to a 20 gallon tank. They promised to do all the necessary work and won’t need my help. Elliot says he’ll even use his birthday money to buy the new tank. I’m not giving in easily; they told me the same spiel when we got the 10 gallon tank. Guess who does most of the cleaning, feeding, and burying the dead fish by our garage.

Update: Day 2 of post-discharge from the small bowl. Warrior is happily schooling with the other Tetras.